SPOILER WARNING from writer Dan Slott: Do NOT read this unless you’ve read “Silver Surfer” #11! This interview is for people who have read the issue and want to know how it came about. This CBR piece SPOILS a lot about the comic — and would ruin your experience of reading the comic for the first time. Fair warning.
As the wielder of the Power Cosmic, the Silver Surfer (AKA Norrin Radd) has the power and freedom to explore the length and breadth of the Marvel Universe. For years he and his faithful board have been cosmic wanderers traveling the spaceways, seeing the interstellar sights and protecting those in need of help. When Marvel launched the Surfer’s latest ongoing series by writer Dan Slott and artist Mike Allred, the eponymous hero offered to share these journeys with an Earthgirl, Dawn Greenwood.
That freedom to go anywhere has inspired Slott and Allred and even impacted their work on the series. The past 10 issues have featured bizarre aliens and strange locales, but this week’s “Silver Surfer” #11 finds the creators at their most ambitious, delivering a time loop tale that is a literal MÃ¶bius Strip, which readers will have to play with in order to help the Surfer and Dawn escape.
CBR News spoke with Slott and Allred about designing the issue, how it contains homages to the work of the other famous Moebius, and the equally unique “Secret Wars” arc of “Silver Surfer” that’s on the horizon.
CBR News: From what I’ve read about “Silver Surfer” #11, it sounds like what you’re doing is telling a story like “Groundhog Day,” but doing so in a way that employs the unique visual language of comics and your title character. Is that a fair description?
Dan Slott: Yes! This is very much in the vein of movies like “Groundhog Day,” “Run Lola Run,” “Edge of Tomorrow,” and the “Star Trek: The Next Generation” episode “Cause and Effect.” The main conceit of those stories is a time-space loop and we’ve actually constructed a time-space loop into your comic! We’ve physically thrust your comic into the fourth dimension!
So this is one you’re going to want to hold in your hands. This is one where you’re going to want to be able flip pages and twist it upside down; all kinds of things that are really going to work best with a physical copy as opposed to a digital one.
They recently had a meeting at Marvel where they were bringing the new digital guys on board. And Tom Brevoort said to them, “You guys are going to have a problem. Because we don’t know how we are going to convert this issue into a digital comic.” [Laughs] The new digital guys took a look at the work in progress and went “Challenge accepted!”
In the end, to make it work, I had to go in and change the dialogue in two balloons, and some extra trickery was involved. The story works, but I can tell you it will be a different “experience” from reading the print version. The good thing is, like most Marvel comics, if you buy the physical copy, you get a free digital code. So I think there’s fun to be had to seeing how different those two readings experiences are.
(Psst. Read it in print first though.)
Mike, what was your initial reaction when Dan first mentioned what he’d like to do in “Silver Surfer” #11? Were you a fan of time loop style stories?
Mike Allred: Bliss!
I don’t know if “fan” is the right word. They intrigue me. They also terrify me. The idea of our existence being some kind of infinite loop breaks my brain and tears up my soul. I’m cursed with existential terrors. I dig the flick “Ground Hog Day” with its humor and ultimate progressive evolution as well as twisty stuff like “Run Lola Run,” “Edge of Tomorrow,” et cetera, et cetera!”
What Dan came up with has a beautiful burst of resolution beyond the brilliance of the concept that I completely love.
What inspired this unique creative decision for this particular issue?
Slott: Every now and then you just want to stretch. You just want to go, “What can we do in comics?” And Mike and I have been having a blast on the Surfer. There’s always this feeling of, “What’s the next level? Where can we take this? Where can we go?”
Back in the day when I was working on “Ren & Stimpy” I got to the point where I was just so comfortable with the characters that I thought, “Okay, let’s play with the comic book medium.” So we did a “Choose Your Own Adventure”-style time travel story that folded in on itself. Even though it was a 48-page comic one of the six or seven potential stories was 56 pages long [Laughs] To work out the outline for that and the way it all worked was a challenge. So while I was working on other comics that kept being a side project in the background. It showed up on the schedule as another 48 page comic, but it had six months worth of brain juice in it.
â€¨This is a very similar thing. We’ve known this was coming for ages. I’ve been in meetings where I’ve explained this story I’ve wanted to do with the Surfer and said that it would fall around “Surfer” #11 and it was going to be crazy. Ever since I’ve had the whiteboard in the office one side of it has ben dedicated to “Surfer” #11. So this is a labor of love comic. It’s getting a lot more time, effort, energy, and love than practically anything else I’ve done in some time. You are getting the benefit of that with this Marvel comic. You’re getting buckets of my brain juice all over this thing.
And, wow, Mike Allred killed on this! He didn’t just make it work, he pushed it even further. He came up with all of these fantastic ideas and ways to visualize the story. In a project that could have been a complicated mess, Mike’s art subtly takes the reader by the hand and guides them along the story.
Mike What impressed you most about Dan’s initial ideas for this story? What were some of the elements you wanted to add?
Allred: The sheer guts of it all blew me away. And that Tom Brevoort and Marvel immediately got behind it to give us the room we needed to pull it off. Ever since, my goal has been to do it justice and not shirk on detail where it needs to be epic. If I contributed anything significant beyond that, I’d say my “arrow-shaped” panels at least help the reader’s eyes move in the proper direction. So I’ll take a pat on the back for that.
I’d be embarrassed to take any credit from what is purely Dan’s brainchild. Having said that, great editors are often the unsung heroes in these collaborative efforts, and Tom Brevoort is truly one of the greats.
Dan, what was it like writing this issue Marvel style for Mike?
Slott: This issue requires three documents from me to get it done. [Laughs] The plot, the script, and a manual of IKEA-like instructions on how to build the damn thing. [Laughs]
Three documents?! Mike, Have you ever worked on a single issue like this before? Does anything you’ve done come close?
Allred: I did “The World’s Biggest Comic Book Panel” in “Madman Atomic Comics.” Which is essentially just one left-to-right action tracking shot broken into two-page spreads. Though you can scroll it unbroken online in my aaapop.com gallery section. But this is way more ambitious and complicated than that.
This was like solving an intricate math equation. When I first saw Dan working it out it reminded me of Klatuu working out the Professor’s formula in “The Day the Earth Stood Still.”
Slott: I can’t even tell you how many notes and things I scribbled on the white board as this kept growing and growing. Every now and then I would forward a screenshot to Mike of what the whiteboard for #11 looked like. As opposed to being scared he saw it as the mountain to climb. He was like, “Let’s do this!”
â€¨There was someone on a Spidey book years ago where I pitched a weird thing like this and they went, “I’m not going near that!” [Laughs] So it’s Mike Allred who has the fortitude, the bravery, and the courage to stare into the abyss of this plot, the literal, endless abyss of this plot and go “Yeah, let’s jump in and scream ‘WA-HOO!’ the whole time.”
It sounds like you’re dealing with a story that’s as sci-fi psychedelic as your title character and cosmos he explores.
Slott: It totally is! There was one night I was walking to the kitchen to get something to drink and I stumbled and accidentally rubbed my shoulder against the whiteboard — and wiped a section off — and I screamed in physical pain. [Laughs] More than if I had stubbed my toe or something. It was like, “NOOOOOOO! Not the mighty whiteboard!” I was frantically turning on all the lights to see what was wiped out and taking a picture of every quadrant on my iPhone. I was like, “I must preserve it all!”
Then I stopped and looked at it and was like, “Wait! I’ve been doing that wrong!” Then I started wiping out whole sections and started redrawing everything. It was like, “YES! I know how to do this!”
Sounds like “A Beautiful Mind”-style moment.
Slott: Yes! That’s actually how friends have described it to me when I’ve showed them pictures of it. I’ve shown them in the way some people show baby pictures. Like, “Look at my whiteboard!” And they’ve been all, “That’s a real ‘Beautiful Mind’ thing you’ve going on there.” And I’m like, “YES! IT IS!” [Laughs]
I’m going to be sad when the day comes when I need whiteboard space for “Surfer” #13 and I have to wipe the whole thing clean. Hurts just thinking about it.
We’ve talked about the structure and mechanics of “Silver Surfer” #11, but what can you tell us about the actual plot of the issue? How does the Surfer become ensnared in this time loop?
Slott: This issue comes after Dawn has learned the Surfer’s terrible secret; that he was a Herald for Galactus and all that entails. She herself was thrust in a position where she had to make the same sacrifice that Norrin did where she offered herself up as a Herald to save lives, and even though she got away from that and knows she would’ve made the exact same choice Norrin did, there’s still a world of difference. Dawn’s still a good person and someone who in her heart can’t reconcile that the Surfer led Galactus to countless planets where billions of people died.
Dawn’s still on this journey and she would love to go home and put this whole thing behind her. Even though she’s seen all these cosmic wonders, she’d like to go right back to Anchor Bay and carry on as if nothing happened. That’s the plan, but first Surfer made a promise to 6 billion alien refugees — from planets that Galactus destroyed. Norrin has vowed to find them a new planet to settle on, a paradise.
So right now they’re on that quest. That’s where we’re at. This isn’t just a parlor trick. When you tell any story, no matter what format you’re using or what medium you’re telling it in, you still have to have a story to tell. Hopefully this will be a very powerful one.
There are other elements to it too. I mean come on! If you’re doing a story with the Silver Surfer that’s on a MÃ¶bius Strip, you better pay tribute to Moebius, the great artist Jean Giraud, who is one of the most influential Silver Surfer artists of all time. There better darn well be a tip of the hat. So you can expect some special visuals with the alien race that lives in this MÃ¶bius Strip.
Mike, Your Surfer work often has a more Kirby feel to it. So what was it like doing the homage to Moebius?
Allred: Complete joy. Moebius is one of my biggest influences. Jack Kirby is a more obvious inspiration, but it was Moebius, Barry Windsor Smith, and The Hernandez Brothers that primarily inspired me to actually start making my own comics. Jean Giraud’s best work has a light ethereal quality that I would love to bring to my own work. In any event, this issue is a nice love letter to the man.
I’d like to circle back and talk about the other MÃ¶bius. Can you talk about how the MÃ¶bius strip translates to the panel layout on the pages?
Slott: In the most frickin insane way possible, Dave! [Laughs] That’s at the heart of this story. That’s at the heart of this issue. How do you do that? How do you translate that into a visual story?
There is a 22-page sequence in this story that requires 11 linking double page layouts! [Laughs] So it’s like, “Here you go Mike Allred! Have fun! I hope you like the movies ‘Rope’ and ‘Birdman!’ GO!”
â€¨We’re doing that and we’re being loopy and literally adding a twist. So WHOOOSH!
Allred: It would have been mind-numbing if Dan hadn’t worked it all out on that big ol’ white board. I had photos of that to keep me on the right track.
Speaking of that twist, I understand it requires readers to, as you mentioned earlier, “play” with their comic to get the most out of the story, is that correct?
Slott: I’m not even going to talk about this. [Laughs] Yes, this is a comic that is going to require you to play with it in a way where it almost feels like you can only do this with a physical copy. You’re going to want to own this one. Maybe even own two. [Laughs] Because you’re going to want to play with it.
Allred: I’ve also always liked making folks bend and cut up their comics. I have a cruel streak that way.
In “Silver Surfer” #7 we created a little maze that Toomie has to go through. I refuse to sign that comic unless the maze has been completely [solved] with permanent marker. HEE HEE.
There’s one sequence in #11 in particular that I struggled with that forced me to destroy a model comic book for the sake of mankind. So folks wouldn’t have to destroy their own. So I’m not as mean as all that. It works. So no one should have to hurt their books too badly.
Slott: To pull this off we needed lots of room to move. Normal Marvel comics have 20 pages of art and story. To get this to work we needed 31 pages. Marvel stepped up. It’s 11 pages longer. It’s an extra-sized issue so it will cost an extra dollar, but I think you’re getting a bargain just based off of brain juice.
Marvel signed off for this because I think they wanted to see it done, too. This is a book that’s not a sales juggernaut. It would’ve been easy for them to say, “Can’t you do this in ‘Spider-Man?’ Can’t you do this in a book with X number of sales?” So I’m so grateful that Marvel is letting us do this with “Surfer” and it’s not even on a special anniversary issue #50 or #100. This is just the story we wanted to do and this is where it falls in the Surfer’s journey.
â€¨What a weird thing to do; to go, “Can we have a special, extra-sized issue #11?” [Laughs] “Issue #11! It will be great!” And Marvel went, “Done!”
It’s weird. There are certain comics that we all own that we never bag and board and put in a box. They stay out and we read them like a zillion times. The hope is that this is going to be something special that you’ll want to have and want to keep rereading and playing with.
Allred: It’s a party and everyone’s invited! If just a fraction of that big blast can be experienced by the reader than I’d call that a success.
Slott: We feel so passionate about this issue that we made it a MÃ¶bius Strip so you will be stuck reading it forever. Good luck breaking out of this comic!
[Laughs] Finally I understand for readers who do escape this comic there’s lots of cool “Silver Surfer” stories on the horizon including what appears to be a really interesting and special “Secret Wars” tale that begins in “Silver Surfer” #13.
Allred: I’ve never been a part of one of these big events. I’m really excited about the balancing act aspect of it. Our part in it is super cool!
Slott: Our “Secret Wars” issues are unique because when “Secret Wars” happens there is Battleworld. There is a moon around Battleworld, but outside of that there’s nothing in the Marvel Universe. Everything across the Multiverse has been destroyed. It’s gone! There’s nothing out there.
One section of the 616 universe survived. A small section of Earth. The rest of the cosmos is WHOOSH. It was really lucky the Guardians, Nova and some other cosmic characters also happened to be back on Earth at the time. So good bit of timing, guys!
Meanwhile though Silver Surfer and Dawn are out in the part of the universe that gets destroyed, which is everything. [Laughs] They’re out in the everything-else and they are there almost up to the moment when everything goes.
The “Silver Surfer” “Secret Wars” issues will explore what happened to the rest of the cosmos. So if you care about the cosmic side of the Marvel U, this is the title to check out. It also features some very cool Marvel Cosmic characters that we’ve kept hidden from the solicits. Also… one of our covers was a lie. You didn’t see the real one because it would’ve spoiled something that’s pretty darn cool.
That said, in this interview we’ve let you peek behind the curtain. I’m bummed we had to do that. We’d rather have had you discover “Silver Surfer” #11 on your own. Now that you know though, hopefully it’s something you’ll want to hunt down. And if you like it, hopefully we can do more trippy stuff like this in the future — that is — if the Marvel Universe has a future after “Secret Wars!”
“Silver Surfer” #11 by Dan Slott & Mike Allred is on sale now.